Restoring the Statue

Restoring the Statue

The last five years have turned me into the seasoned mourner I never wanted to be, but always knew I was destined to become. Even as a young man, I knew I’d have to face losing a lot of important people in my life. Among my massive Catholic family, I’m the youngest child of the youngest of nine on my paternal side and not far off on the other side. I could still leave the planet early, of course, but if I’m on anything like the standard timeline, I will experience a lot of loss from family alone, to say nothing of my voluminous list of dear friends.

As I hear of a good friend losing his mother, the concern and grief I feel at his loss triggers a dull sting reminding me I’ve more to do to mourn my own mother, who passed away just a couple of months into the pandemic last year. This was easier with my father, who we lost three years back. I’ve found myriad ways to honor him, from travel to reading to watching his favorite films. Sorting out similar methods for my mother has been much more difficult.

Yet, I’ve found a meaningful way to make it work. The books and such are fine, but the most profound part of my mourning process has been to embrace the best traits my parents had to offer. They were far from perfect, as am I, but there’s much to admire, too, and not all of it is currently housed properly in my own brain and/or heart.

With my mother, the part of her I’d hope flows into me from her memory is her generosity. She was a devoted mother who would do anything for her children, to the point we relied on her too much. She loved so much that she could not judge where to stop. This clouded her view of us in the nicest way, too, as she could see little wrong with her children and nothing with her grandchildren. She was a giver and I know this well as one of the big takers in her life. I’ve always tempered this inclination in my own parenting, trying to not miss opportunities to encourage self-reliance and build confidence. Now, however, I want to be more like her. I want to just support those around me. I want to be more the one who rushes to help without thinking about whether I’m ‘teaching a person to fish instead of giving them a fish.’ My mom handed out the fish all the time, no questions asked. You even got a hug with it.

A Task Never Accomplished

As I thought about this intangible quest last weekend, I looked out into our back garden at my wife watering plants among the small statuary we inherited from my mother. A peculiar one amongst the collection was an ersatz Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This is generous to the stubby little thing because it was made by some knockoff company and, although there was fidelity in the face, the clothes were red and blue for some reason.

My mother housed this goofy little item in her yard, dragging his heavier-than-you-would-think body from her house to a townhome, to a mobile home in a retirement community and then to our place when she came to live with us. This helped our home also be hers during the year she was with us. Internal space was tight, so we couldn’t retain all of her furniture but we kept her garden decor and plants she’d put into ceramic pots so they could move with her. My wife endeavored to keep the plants alive, but the loving care she provided my mother was the real gift she gave us both. Alas, my mother inspired me to marry a woman of uncommon kindness. She was repaid mightily by my wife, who managed her medicine, cooked and cared for her with love, as she would her own mother.

Ersatz Dopey: What a faker.

During that year with my mom, I’d sit in the garden and sometimes joke with her, suggesting the ‘real’ Dopey would be offended by this impostor. “I know,” she’d say, “He’s a big faker.” While teasing the innocent statue amused us both, I’d often said she should paint him the right colors. She’d agree and recall how she used to paint. She didn’t produce much but I recall a gorgeous painting of an atoll at dusk, with purple water and shadows dominating the serenity of the scene. Her work always was a pleasant reminder of my mother’s artistic side, which mostly came out of necessity. Challenged with a child (even an adult child) in need of a Halloween costume, she would find the materials and get them together with impressive results. She turned my wife and myself into a credible March Hare and Mad Hatter one year. My sister’s Queen of Hearts costume was also exceptional. Halloween was always a fun time for our family. This tradition preceded our generation; my family always had Halloween parties and, in fact, my parents first met at a Halloween party and the story is they were an item immediately. I’m thrilled to have a picture of that glorious night.

Ritual Restoration

Alas, my mother never broke out the paints as she planned so many times. Poor Fake Dopey remained in his unattractive blue and red garments. So, when the clouds of early spring parted a few days before Easter, I mentioned this to my wife. She kindly took up a paintbrush the next day. With her sure hand, she cleaned up the figure and let him dry before putting him back out to work – newly refurbished and ready to guard the garden against whatever incursion might threaten the kumquat and mango trees my wife planted (knowing my affinity for those fruits) or the white flowers of jasmine spread across our fence.

Dopey

Only when a friend came by for a physically-distanced visit did I make the connection. He saw the newly-painted Dopey and asked where it came from. When I reminded him of the knockoff, he recalled it. I explained that my mother had wanted this statue to be painted and, though she wasn’t here, I experienced the satisfaction of his refurbishment in my heart. This act would have made her happy and the reflection of that imagined joy on my own soul was palpable. I hesitate to say reflection only because the elation was a more potent blend than that word conveys. This was the same multi-flavored emotion I felt when I traveled to England to spread my father’s and uncle’s ashes in a place significant to them. I was overwhelmed by an emotion of my own layered on top of what I know my loved ones would experience.

I’ll add one more dimension: my mother would want me to be happy when I thought of her, so I’m also fulfilling that wish. It’s like a sense of loving accomplishment boomeranging back and forth to infinity. This lifted the shackles of loss and beat back the grief, turning the tears into a quiet rain of pure love. I enjoyed those salubrious drops hanging around the edges of my eyes, comforting me as my mother always would. The impression of her head against my chest (she was only 5’1″ to my 6′) appeared like a phantom hug. I’ve been feeling that all week as I considered my experience; somehow, it’s new and wonderful every time.

Mom and Eric
Mom and me early last year.

Sweetness Follows

One of life’s counterintuitive and also most profoundly sweet lessons is that making others happy is actually more compelling than making yourself happy. Applying this notion to the memory of someone you’ve loved and lost – well, I find it a rare and wonderful concoction. To be sure, it is an acquired taste that you obtain through the mourning process. I definitely didn’t have it in the early days, when even pleasant memories and thoughts were too raw.

These rituals help along the journey, whether they’re tiny like this restoration or larger like my donations to causes important to my mom on her birthday and for Christmas. They build up the interest and appetite for these more complex emotions that manifest from the loss of a loved one. Every time I find another way to honor my mother, the experience is less bitter and somewhat sweeter. Accepting that these emotions will always be a melange has helped immensely.

Session Review: Aroma: A Game of Essence by Organic Aromas

Session Review: Aroma: A Game of Essence by Organic Aromas

Disclosure: The makers of Aroma: A Game of Essence provided a review copy of the game for an independent written review.

Unique mechanisms in board games are harder to come by these days. So many games feel like Frankenstein’s Monster versions of other good games, which sometimes works. The folks who made Aroma: A Game of Essence may be drawing on some traditional game elements in their four-in-one game box, but the central mechanism is indeed unique: Aroma is all about smelling stuff.

Does that sound crass? It’s not – this isn’t a Cards Against Humanity game with disgusting scratch-and-sniff cards (ugh, I just gave someone ideas). Aroma is actually a quite lovely opportunity to smell essential oils and try to guess them in the play of a game. Within this pleasant and compact box, you’ll find twenty essential oils in four categories (Citrus, Trees, Floral, Plants) that play a central role in each of the four games you can play with Aroma.

A Whiff of Familiar Mechanisms

Yes, Aroma comes with a series of essential oils but also sturdy player boards, cubes, sets of identifying chits for each scent, and other components that are well-designed to fit into a small box while supporting four methods of play, all of which play under an hour to allow it to be pretty approachable for casual players. Each game involves sniffing the essential oils without looking at the identifying stickers on the bottom of the bottles, with players scoring points based on the specific game’s rules.

Handy cards explain the scents.
  • In Collect, players try to be the first to acquire all five aromas in their color by finding and guessing each aroma in the category.
  • In Discovery, a bluffing element is added to the mix.
  • In Revolve, players are speed-round trying to identify the essential oils.
  • In Survive, you win by identifying the aromas in your friends’ group before they identify your aromas.

Much like the enormously popular board game Wingspan, where players can learn a lot of ornithology from playing, you can learn a lot about essential oils here, especially with the cards they provide that include scent descriptions. These can actually help during game play.

For this review, we played all four games and my perception is that most people will find perhaps two of the games to be the preferred way to play. That still provides reasonable replay value, so if you enjoy the act of trying to identify these scents, you will have a good reason to keep bringing Aroma to the table.

The Scent of Fun

I’ll be honest; my son and I both sat down to Aroma skeptical that we’d enjoy this game very much. My wife and daughter were all in, being big fans of essential oils. Yet, as we played, the speed of the games and the success my son experienced won him over quickly. He proved to be far better at identifying the tree scents (probably from his experience as an Eagle Scout) than my wife or daughter, which gave him a fighting chance in the games even though they dominated in identifying the Florals and Plants. My son ended up winning Discover and Revolve handily. My wife and daughter split the other two games, winning Collect and Survive, respectively. My daughter’s killer aggressive instincts helped during Survive, which she called the best of the games. My son found all the games solid, as did my wife. There was general agreement that any would be fine to play again amongst the three of them.

Those elusive Tree scents. My nose failed me here.

Personally, I found Collect and Survive to be the best experiences. Collect is fun and easy to explain – it’s probably the way to introduce the game as a whole. Survive’s confrontational gameplay proved fun because the interaction was strong and it gave us a chance to talk tough at one another. The bluffing in Discovery was probably the least interesting as the stakes don’t feel high enough to make it meaningful. Revolve might just not appeal to everyone with a speed-round, which turns off some people (my wife barely tried – not her bottle of essence, shall we say).

In the end, we all had a good time getting some right, some wrong and some OMG dead wrong. Ultimately, there was enjoyable trash-talking about whose nose knows best, which was a great time. I think we all improved our skills of olfactory identification during the course of these games. My daughter said, “Next time, I’m practicing ahead of time.” I guess we will get all four of us together for a next time, which isn’t always easy to do. I’m thrilled my wife and daughter want to give it another go.

What About Snooty Gamer Opinions?

Listen, it’s a game that involved sniffing essential oils. Why would you think they’d hire Martin Wallace or maybe Vital Lacerda to design it? The actual game mechanisms are basic and unlikely to intrigue the serious gamers. Yet, that’s a big advantage for a casual game like this one. Anyone can easily play as each set of rules is brief and highly approachable. Even though I basically identified like three scents properly (Orange, Eucalyptus, and Marigold, if you must know) across four games, I enjoyed the experience because everyone else thought working out a chemical sense was a good time indeed.

I suggest spelling the oils on your skin but if you prefer, the game has paper scent holders.

I do love the way they use the fine quality components to build various board setups for each game. The utility of the design is admirable and I can appreciate the efforts there. The iconography is simple and the imagery is subtle in a way that is both attractive and useful.

One knock here is the overly-cute effort to add ‘mini-games’ to the beginning of each game to determine a start player. These little activities are mostly dexterity-based and they don’t add much to the experience. A bit too much of a good thing, having all this diversity of play styles. We probably wouldn’t do most of them again in the future.

The Final Word

Aroma: A Game of Essence is a good board game for your friend who loves essential oils. The game is also attractive as a light party game. I believe it could play well with families or even drinking buddies who want to take a shot for each failed sniff test. The approachable rules and easy play makes it one of those games where people want to give it another go right afterward, and the modular game invites that big time. Just don’t go into the game thinking you will be figuring out a deep strategy puzzle and you should come out smelling like roses.

Aroma is available now on Amazon.com or you can check out the website from the company, Organic Aromas, who made the game, which includes many other products involving essential oils.

Boardgame Auction Time – Ends on 12/26

Just a quick update to say that I’ve posted a new auction with more than 100 lots of board games and related items. Promos, OOP games, and more – check it out here.

Why am selling so many games? Simply, I did read the Marie Kondo book earlier this year, although I haven’t seen her show. I liked the concept of not keeping physical things with sentimental value if they don’t directly offer you joy. The ritual of ‘thanking and saying goodbye’ to board games that may have meant something in the past but don’t get played was positive (no, I didn’t actually say goodbye – but I did think about it).

So, the games are priced to move. Bid now and, if you’re local, I will host a pick up day on 12/27 from 10 am to 2pm. Leftovers and some other geeky stuff will be available for perusing and purchase. I will even have copies of my novel, Tired of Singing Trouble, on-hand, which some people have asked about. It’ll be there with special pricing for the day. Some games shown here and there’s much more!

Here’s the auction link – happy bidding!

https://rebrand.ly/bgb2020auction

Raw Thoughts About Macaron by Ta-Te Wu and Sunrise Tornado Games

Raw Thoughts About Macaron by Ta-Te Wu and Sunrise Tornado Games

What can I say about Macaron, a delicious new trick-taking game designed by my friend and sometime collaborator Ta-Te Wu, that hasn’t already been said?

I’m not really sure. The game has received really good press so far. My positive review is just adding to a chorus of approval that has been bestowed upon this welcome new addition to the genre.

Macaron
My daughter thought Ta-Te had sent us cookies because the box is so adorable.

How Does the Cookie Crumble?

If you know trick-taking games, you are halfway to knowing Macaron. Like most in the genre, someone leads a card and you need to follow by playing a card of the same suit if you can. If you don’t have one of those cards, you can decide to get rid of a card from another suit or play a “Royal” card – hurray for a new euphemism for what we used to call these dominant card suits that win the trick over the suit that’s led. Yeah, I’m not saying the old word…

Macaron has the same number of cards as a standard deck but they are unevenly split into seven suits. Six have cards numbered one to seven and the chocolate suit has cards one to ten. Macaron has a start player token, a Royal marker and an Allergen token. Players also get tokens for the various tracks.

What’s different about Macaron includes the use of multiple Royal suits for macaron types, which are tracked on special boards and a main board that has a score track, one for bidding and a means of tracking the bonus gift boxes completed by players each round.

What is Served Up Each Turn?

The deck is shuffled and all cards are dealt to the players. Based on player number, some of this varies but check that out when you play. Players then pass two card to one of their opponents.

Royal and Allergen: This is based on player count – with fewer than four players, the player to the left of the start player picks the Royal Group and the player to the left of them picks the Allergen. With four or five players there is a voting round to make this determination, with chips distributed to the player.

Bidding: Then, players bet on how many tricks they will take (shown as cookie boxes) this round. Successful bets will award points for success, losses for failure and it’s all optional.

As before, it’s trick-taking – so lead and follow. Royal cards can win a trick with the highest Royal card. But we have an opposite – the Allergens makes a trick worthless. Those cookies are the worst!

1s and 2s – These cards are special. 1s make a trick worth three tricks instead of one trick, while 2s will cancel Allergens to restore the value of a trick. It’s a nice way to make those low cards worth a little something more.

Once all the cards for the round are played, you check trick totals against bids and award points. Points vary based on the basic versus the advanced game. When someone hits ten points, the player with the highest total wins.

What Do I Think?

I like the game but that’s not a big surprise because I love trick-taking games. I like the Allergens concept, the special cards and the matched-set Royal suits, all of which makes this one a winner for me. Plus, I like games with bidding because you can do well even if the cards aren’t in your favor. This gives trick-taking games more nuance, allowing you to exploit the overconfidence of the player with a stacked hand, or just be super-scrappy and make points with low-trick bids. The control is welcome and, dare I say, delicious…

Macaron also has you covered with a solo mode, which can help in this crazy time of COVID. Add all that to the beautiful artwork on the cookie cards and I think this pleasant, light experience will make it to your table regularly. It has done so with ours.

Importantly, Macaron is approachable and new players can do well in their first game. Some trick-takers and ladder-climbing games can intimidate new players, often more so from their mannered style of play (Hello, Tichu) than from overly complex rules. Not Macaron – this will work with casual gamers and kids. I don’t have children in my house like that to play with anymore (all adults now) but I suspect that even younger children in the middle-school range will be happy to play Macaron.

Macaron is live on Kickstarter right now and it runs through 11/30 . I recommend you go all Cookie Monster and pick it up.

5 Quick Questions About Macaron with Ta-Te Wu

5 Quick Questions About Macaron with Ta-Te Wu

Editor’s Note: As an avowed content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our 5 Quick Questions interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Ta-Te Wu, the L.A.-based game designer, Cat-Theme Advocate, and the publisher of Sunrise Tornado Games, does, shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Macaron?

Game Designer, Painter and Beverage Enthusiast Ta-Te Wu

Ta-Te Wu: Macaron is a trick-taking game with novel tastes for 1 to 5 players. It’s easy to learn and play for people who are new to trick-taking game while being exciting and fun for advanced players.

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Ta-Te Wu: I love traditional trick-taking games, but they usually have a limit on the number of players. Plus, if you have a bad hand, you are less likely to enjoy the round. So I set a goal is to design a trick-taking game that’s flexible on the number of players, enjoyable to play even with a bad hand, and without overly-complicated abilities. And here is Macaron ☺

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Macaron: Delicious to behold. NOTE: This is the prototype so it might look different later.

Ta-Te Wu: Macaron is a rare game that fits in a traditional trick-taking games genre that is friendly enough to be enjoyable to new players. The experienced players won’t run away with the game, as can happen with some trick-takers. It’s also rare for a trick-taking game to have a solo option. Macaron does all this and still has enough depth for experienced players. It’s pretty much a game for any crowd.

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Ta-Te Wu: It doesn’t come with macarons?

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Macaron. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Ta-Te Wu: Thanks, Eric. Here it is:

Play Time: 30 to 45 min.
Number of Players: 1 to 5
Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tatewu/macaron-a-card-game-with-novel-tastes

JOKE TIME

Macaron A: Hey, Macaron B! Have you ever had a silly macaron?
Macaron B: No. What is it?
Macaron A: lol
Macaron B: What is it?
Macaron A: lol
Macaron B: I don’t get it.

Boardgame Survey – Win prizes!

Some readers of the text in this space know that I make software with a cognitive bent as a day job. Well, I’ve been talking to our CEO, Dr. Galen Buckwalter, about doing a study about board games for a while. Dr. Buckwalter was the founding scientist behind eHarmony and I’ve learned so much about psychology and, specifically, how to understand personality in the last five years since I started working with him.

Now, I’ve got the chance to do this study. NEON ID, the data independence platform that Galen and I are working with now through our company psyML, has agreed to sponsor the study I’ve been interested in for years.

If you’re willing to help build on the research of our hobby, all you need to do is go to: neonid.com and take the quick survey there, which will give you what we call a Color Fingerprint that shows off the key elements of your personality score based on HEXACO, the industry standard for personality understanding. Then, take the survey below. You can also just as easily do the survey first…just please make sure you do the personality survey with the same email address so we can connect the data.

Prizes will be awarded in early December! As we get more prizes into the pool, we’ll announce them through social media and here. Thanks for helping us build understanding about our hobby!

What is NEON ID? To learn more, take a look at this video:

Tired of Singing Trouble: My Novel is now available

Tired of Singing Trouble: My Novel is now available

Yes, here is a link to buy my novel, Tired of Singing Trouble on Amazon.

Before all of my other roles in professional life, I’m a writer. Ages ago, I wrote a novel that was the evolution of my senior thesis in college. Then, I did nothing with it.

Sure, some people got a chance to read it. I had some initial feedback and I made some changes. To a few people within my circle of friends, the book was something of a myth. Was I ever going to publish it and was there some dark reason why I didn’t?

A Promise Fulfilled

About three years ago, my father asked about the book when I was doing my weekly duty of bringing him reading material from the used bookstore. He jokingly asked if I could bring him my book to read. In the course of our conversation, he basically said “just go publish it and be done.” Although my dad’s thinking could be cloudy in the last years of his life (he passed in early 2018), that was a moment of clarity. I promised him that I would.

The old printout read by a handful ages ago.

So I decided to publish the book. I did give it a good edit and I got some beta readers who gave me some feedback but I told them that all I really wanted was a basic technical review of the book. I refused to completely re-write the story as I might from the perspective of a far older man.

What’s It All About?

So there is the backstory. Now the front story. Tired of Singing Trouble is about a man named Jay who is summoned back to his home in Southern California to attend a wedding as the best man, even though he’s lost touch with all of his hometown friends over the years. He is surprised by this and finds out that even though he left town years ago, the persona of him was still alive and well amongst his friends. The story takes place over just a couple of days (okay, there are flashbacks) with him attending the wedding festivities, reconnecting with friends and meeting some new people on a journey of discovery and acceptance.

Now, I’m sure that most of you are wondering: Where are the boardgames? Not to worry. There are board game references here and there within the book because Jay and his friends play tabletop games. I would even claim that the playing of games is a motif within the novel.
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The book is live on Amazon here, as a Kindle or a paperback. I hope you will enjoy the book. Thanks in advance for all of your support. Every single copy that sells is both a huge joy to me and another tiny bit of proof that I honored my promise to my dad.


If you are generous enough to want a signed physical copy, please send me a note to: bgbtabletopmedia@gmail.com and I’ll figure out the logistics.

E.R. Burgess

Here is a current author photo, with a COVID-19 mask in place for your protection.

Loss in the Time of Corona

Much of the board game community was gripped in grief this week at the loss of a gamer who so many of us truly adored, James Miller. If you didn’t know James, suffice it to say that if you did, you would have loved him, too. He was kindness personified, someone who took an interest in everyone he met, an ace game explainer and a funny yet sweet presence at every game table. I don’t want to say he was a prince; he was what we want in a prince.

James in blue during an epic game of Time’s Up while in Essen (2009, Stephanie Bennett)

As the tributes poured in on social media, some with happy pictures (James had a smile that conveyed pure joy every single time) and heartfelt memories shared (especially about his exceptional Time’s Up skills), and others succinct enough to follow Twitter’s original character limit, they all were strongly expressed and it was obvious that the network of James’ friends extended across the world. We all felt the loss in a very real sense even if we only saw James at game cons (as was the case for me). Yes, this was because James was one of those friends one appreciates so much. But the number of people who added that this was just another thing tearing at the soul during this challenging time in our world was enormous. I felt it myself. Could 2020 stop taking everything from us? How are we to cope?

A Period of Grief

I have been through a lot of grief in the last few years, including the passing of my father, an uncle who was like a second dad, two other close uncles, a close aunt, a young adult who I watched grow up, and even my mother just two and half months back. That isn’t even mentioning some other gamer friends who also left us too soon. It’s been a very tough few years.

In 2018, I felt the same way most of us are feeling about 2020. Early that year, my father passed and literally the Monday after the funeral, I found out about this young person passing who I cared about and who my children looked up to as an older brother. After this, every other bad thing that happened, from my mother’s dementia accelerating to my basset hound passing to even a favorite author dying, made it feel like the year itself was getting crueler. Work became untenable, with some people at my organization doing completely insane things. I could feel myself losing touch with the things that brought me joy.

Thankfully, I had a plan in place to travel to the UK at that point to spend time with my sister and brother-in-law, who live there most of the time. The trip was about memorializing my father properly and we did so by traveling to Ulverston, the birthplace of Stan Laurel. In addition to staying at the Stan Laurel Inn (a charming tavern), we spread his and my uncle’s ashes in the river there (yes, we had a Lebowski moment), and spent time at the Laurel and Hardy museum that occupies an old movie house in town. While there, we talked to the museum owner and other attendees about my father and my uncle, their great love of the duo, how they had met Stan Laurel when they were young, and how our trip was to honor their memories.

My sister Isabel and me with the Boys in Ulverston.

Yes, the trip was for my Dad but also for my Uncle Bill. Just six months before my father’s passing, my uncle had died and perhaps the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was to tell my Dad that his brother, his practical twin, had passed. While his cognitive abilities were impaired by a stroke a dozen years before, he’d gotten quite good at controlling his emotions. But this broke us both down. I hugged him and we both cried so much; I recall thinking that our tears must have gotten mixed up. I told these stories to my sister while I was visiting her third-floor flat and we spent a lot of time crying but also a lot of time telling happy stories about our wonderful dad and our cool, witty uncle.

A Process of Mourning

At the York Minster

While I cannot discount the healing value of having spent the week after our trip to Ulverston walking through the towns of Northern England (even a trip to Liverpool – home to both The Beatles and my family) with my beloved sister Isabel, it was that storytelling and those shared memories that helped me with the mourning process. Someone smarter than me clarified in a book I read that grief is something we experience but mourning is a process you go through and actively work to complete.

I realized I was getting to the end of my process of mourning when I was on the plane back to the US. I could feel my father firmly placed on one shoulder and my uncle on the other, ready for me to call upon their wisdom when I needed it. My father is where I got my passionate loyalty, my sense of right and wrong, and the toughness to take things on when I needed to do so. My uncle is where I got my intellectual curiosity and love of learning, along with my gregarious nature, and sense of wonder for the future. They were still with me through my memories and when I passed them on to others, I could keep them alive.

A Commitment to Heal and Endure

When I returned to the States, I had lunch with my friend and colleague Dr. Galen Buckwalter at our favorite sushi spot. Galen is one of the world’s leading psychometricians and a man of profound understanding that I’m honored to still work with on my new project, NEON ID. When he heard about my travels and their healing quality, he noted that this is why we have ritual. We honor those we lose and invest the time in mourning to help us process what they meant to us so we can continue to live. Those memories and those stories we tell keep them alive for all of us who remain. Yes, sometimes tears accompany those moments but this process is what helps us find the strength to endure. I don’t use memories as a wall to block out grief; I use them as a filter to transform those sad moments into learning and gratitude for the time we had with them.

This glorious yet simple message was written on the wall in my path to get to the beach the last day I was on holiday last month. It was precisely what I needed.

If I had not gone through 2018 and found a way to cope, I don’t think I could have handled 2020 at all. While I have not completed my mourning process for my mother, I have begun it. I took a smaller trip for my birthday last month and spent time reflecting on her loss while sitting on a beach with my feet in the sand and my eyes resting on the waves. This was a strong start to the process but I know it will continue. She’s begun to manifest next to my father on my shoulder, the gentlest of reminders about what she taught me regarding unconditional love. For now, I remain her student and will keep at it until I’ve processed in what I have to learn from her life. I’m drawing strength against despair from her each and every day.

And this weekend, I will be honoring James by getting my family to play his game Control Nut. I am so happy that I acquired a copy some years ago. I will admit that I bought it before playing the game. I snapped it up because of James, because he was someone I liked so much that I wanted his game on my shelf. I happen to also like the game and I’m happy for the excuse to get it back to the table.

In the future, I will remember him and my happy memories of time playing games or just shooting the breeze with him when I play it. Heck, I will remember him every time I do a solid job of explaining a game since I know I picked up some of my skills from him over the years. I can take those learnings from him and, I hope, maybe I can even learn to be a kinder person from hearing how he positively affected the lives of so many gamers across the world. He lived life well and the huge impact is strongly felt across our community. How much more can be asked of any of us?

Control Nut is good, trick-takey fun!

This will be part of my way of processing this loss even in this horrible moment in history. We must go on, we must cope, we must right the ship and we must thrive. All of those who passed who loved us would want that and it’s our duty to keep honoring their lives by doing so. I will get to work with it and I hope you will, too.

Reading List

I always turn to books when I need help and this was no exception. Here are some books on this process that have helped me in recent days:

It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay by Megan Devine – Recommended to me by Galen’s wife, Dr. Deborah Buckwalter. More focused on the loss of a spouse/partner but still very useful

Can We Please Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast – Recommended by Andy Looney. Focused on coping with older parents and care-taking.

The Orphaned Adult by Alexander Levy – Read about it online. More religion than I needed, but still a good book for coping with the loss of parents in particular.

5 Reasons Why Board Gamers Make the Best Employees

5 Reasons Why Board Gamers Make the Best Employees

Hiring isn’t easy. Lots of books will tell you to hire for culture fit, hire the person and sort out the job for them, or to simply bring in a diverse set of voices that will create the energy and creativity to help you grow your business. How can you tell what really works?

I’ve hired hundreds of employees in the last twenty years, so I look for the shortcuts where I can, just not problematic ones like ‘hiring people who just look like you or went to the same school.’ I’m looking for the insight from elsewhere in a candidates’ life. My greatest mentor, Morgan Underwood, used to come into interviews with great ‘personality’ questions. He always said that if we’re going to spend so much time together, we should hire employees whose company we enjoy.

Nowadays, we’d probably drop that into the aforementioned ‘culture fit’ and, while that concept gets a bad rap sometimes, I find it useful. I love to hear that a candidate devotes time to charity. It’s exciting to hear they have an artistic side of an interesting hobby that offers insight into the type of person they are. This last point is most useful when I hear that a candidate plays modern board games.

Now, full disclosure: Board games are one of my main hobbies. I encourage play of them everywhere I work so it might sound like I’m just fishing for more players at lunch time and after work but hear me out. I like to hire board gamers because I think they make great employees.

Terraforming Mars – Don’t you want your employees doing this for fun?

Mind you, I’m not talking about people who play lamentable classic board games like Candyland with their children. I’m talking about people who play modern board games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. These folks are participating in a hobby that is surging in popularity, on its way to a 12 billion-dollar valuation in 2023. I have always said that this resurgence in popularity is a reaction to so much screen time. More importantly, these people are spending their leisure time with the most intellectually stimulating hobby around.

Why are these people likely to be great employees? Let’s take a look at what you get when you hire a board game fan.

  1. Intellectual Exercise – Their hobby is an intellectual exercise. In addition to being one of the best ways to combat dementia, board games are mentally stimulating as they involve resource management, planning, trouble-shooting and puzzle-solving – often all within a single game. Modern board games ask players to manage situational luck, weigh options that all sound attractive, and make a large number of decisions every hour they play – all in the name of fun with friends. I want people on my teams that do this kind of activity as a hobby because they are getting trained to make real business decisions when it counts for my company.
  2. Interaction with People – Forget the introverted geek stereotype. Most modern board games involve a lot of interaction. The best of them hone your people skills with a chance to negotiate and trade, participate in auctions, work cooperatively or semi-cooperatively, and basically learn more about people through deep interaction. In some games, you need to ferret out a player who is working against the others. Often, you have to weigh what’s important to you against what the other players want or need. In others, you just have to flat out convince people to support what you want to do. These are absolutely valuable as business skills. Sure, you can build camaraderie by going bowling or out for drinks, but board games offer you insight into the way people can successfully work together, compete, and win with our minds, using skills that are more directly related to how a business runs.
  3. The Art of Winning and Losing – Board game players get more chances to win and lose than the average person. Every time you release a product, run a marketing campaign, or try to close a sale, you get important feedback and an opportunity to learn. Board gamers get this experience with every game, learning from failure in a place where the stakes are lower. Since modern board games are driven by decisions, strategic thinking, and managing risk, players get a chance to learn from their errors, dissect success, and – to paraphrase one of the world’s greatest game designers, Reiner Knizia – to see winning as a goal and to focus on that goal, not the winning. When we face these highs and lows more frequently than just a quarterly report of success, it helps employees manage the stress of these key moments.
  4. Bias to Action — For board gamers, the focus is on action. Sure, people watch movies, tv and sporting events to relax. There’s nothing wrong with that. In contrast, board gamers simply put on another hat and get to work for their fun. No, modern board games are not work. Yet, this hobby trains minds to engage, to act in a timely manner, and to make considered moves. That drives a bias to action, to push ahead with plans and avoid indecision. Board games will give them 10 turns to build the means of being successful and then running the engine to generate that success.
  5. Knows the Rules — Board gamers like to learn new rules. They are good at finding paths to succeed within the boundaries of the possible. Modern board games are not an endless slog like Monopoly. Most have fixed endings that give players focus on a strategic plan. That sure sounds a lot like a good business plan. Board gamers learn the rules both to follow them and find the opportunity hidden among them. Sure, rule-breakers are cool. But a smart business really wants a team of employees that can find a way to success by playing by the rules and using them to effectively drive ongoing success. If your employees are always thinking about how to make things work with what they have, even during their leisure time, they are building up the mental muscles to be strong when it’s time to build and grow your business.
Board Games Build Business Skills

Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that you should include a game of Terraforming Mars or Scythe as part of your interview process. Yet, I do think that when you hear your prospective employees are playing board games in their spare time, you are likely speaking to a smart person who has the problem-solving skills to be a great contributor to your business. I rank it right up there with people who read a lot, have cool side hustles, and those for whom Coursera is a YouTube substitute. Grab these people before some other smart company does. They will help you win the game your business is playing time and again.


P.S. Yes, introduce a board game night or lunch at your company. This will help you build these skills with your existing team while also increasing a sense of camaraderie amongst your employees. Look here for a set of party games I recommend.

Lydia Burgess: A remembrance of my loving mother

Lydia Burgess: A remembrance of my loving mother

This year, due to COVID-19, was the first Mother’s Day in my life that I did not spend with my loving mother, Lydia. It now seems prescient to what would befall our family yesterday, in that we lost her to natural causes in the depth of the afternoon.

She did like her wine!

My mother was a lovely, beautiful woman, but only 5’1” and three-quarters tall (she’d bristle if I failed to mention the three-quarters). Yes, although I top out at 6 feet, my mother was quite tiny but she packed a lot of life and love into that diminutive frame. In her eighty-one years, my mother endured a lot. While her childhood and earlier years included more than her share of loss and pain, things changed when she met and married my father in her early twenties. I enjoyed recently hearing a cousin of mine say it was like a fairy tale wedding, my dad coming in as a prince to marry my princess of a mother so they could begin their happily ever after. Their love affair would last over fifty years, produce three children and four grandchildren. I go there quickly because that’s what made my mother happiest: Family.

My parents when they were dating.

Everything my mother did was about her family. She was the mother who put everyone in her life ahead of herself, the mom who would happily trade a meal with you at a restaurant if you didn’t like yours. She would watch the film you wanted to see, she’d go to the store you wanted to visit, and even play the board game you picked out. And she went above and beyond just your health and immediate happiness. In Disney terms, I’d call it “plussing it up.’ She didn’t stop at what you needed, she’d do more to make sure you were happy and felt she cared. I still recall one day when I was extremely ill as a child, how she left work early to come home and spend more time with me. Yes, she brought the medicine to make sure I felt better. Yet, she also stopped at the Clarks Drugs counter and bought me an Atari cartridge so that when I felt better, I had this little ‘feel even better’ gift to enjoy. That’s a tradition with us now, we all tend to give little feel-better gifts when someone is really not well (my sister just sent one to my daughter). That was my mom’s way and it counts, that stays with you – notably, I can tell you that the game was Laser Blast (she had called and made sure it was one I wanted) because I still feel good from her generosity that day, almost forty years ago.

My mom and dad were so cool, they loved Star Wars.

When I was older and learned of the difficult life my mom endured as a child, I was flummoxed. How did she live through that trauma and still turn into the most generous, kind, and wonderful mother? She simply took pain and transformed it into love; it became a desire to protect and to care for her children deeply. She was always was ready to help. She really didn’t want much for herself but she delighted in giving and helping. Not that she was entirely opposed to receiving something. If you had a yummy dessert on your plate at a restaurant, she would collect her ‘taste’. From when I was very young, I recall she’d tell us that if she didn’t get a little bite of whatever you had, she’d ‘get a bump on her tongue.’ I can recall getting to an age where I saw through the emotional appeal. I demanded to see the bump, to which she’d say that it’d only manifest if I were to be so ungenerous as to NOT give her a bite. I always did. All that time, I never saw a bump. She could be pretty persuasive.

My mom was also a fibber. I will use that term instead of ‘liar’ because all of her falsehoods were of the ‘white lie’ variety. She would often tell a fanciful version of things to avoid hurting people’s feelings. But she’d also dial them up to get herself out of trouble. As she got older, it was easier to catch her in these little fibs. When she’d say she took her pills to avoid getting hassled for forgetting. We’d catch her and she’d laugh at her deception and demand to know who told on her. She’d get away with it every time. She’d earned it.

Big drinker? Not really, but she was always ready for take a silly photo.

She also had a sneaky sense of humor. While she was quite proper for the most part, I recall her laughing loudly (her mirth was high-pitched and catching) at some pretty raunchy jokes when we went to see Chasing Amy in the theater. My own fault for taking my parents to a Kevin Smith film. She also happily participated in practical jokes. My dad told traditional jokes, which I’ve never done. But I definitely got my tendency to deliver deadpan ludicrous details to prank people from my mom.

Both of my parents taught me compassion. While my father spoke about it intellectually and did what he could in his noble work, my mother was a passionate debater that would get into it with someone as he rarely would. While she wasn’t a deeply churchy person, her Catholic ideals of protecting the meek and poor never faded for a moment. She hated bullies, she railed against the obscenely rich who exploited the weak, and she expressed tolerance for everyone. I can recall trying to pull her away from arguments with family who found a way to believe otherwise, but she didn’t go away quietly. In this kind-hearted woman, this is where she got fierce. She was a person of enormous compassion for the common person. I will always love and respect her for that; it was an extension of how she protected her family and loved people.

At The Magic Castle in LA. My mom wanted to go anywhere, do anything.

If my mom’s generosity as a mother was huge, it was truly epic as a grandmother. Her grandchildren could basically do no wrong. Her kids – sure, we were an imperfect bunch but she loved and defended us anyway. But the grandkids? They were her perfect angels and no amount of reality could get in the way of that. Did a grandchild break something? Her fault for leaving it on such a high shelf. Did they misbehave? She’d clearly failed to address all their pent-up energy. Did they do something that their parents directly said not to do? Well, clearly her child failed to make rules that worked well for her grandchild. As a parent of half of those kids, I can tell you that this could be very irritating! Grandma was something of an enabler and when I’d determine a punishment suitable to a crime, she’d openly defy and discount the judgment. Definitely not helpful for young parents, but I knew it came from her indomitable love of her grandchildren. For my kids, she would host sleepovers and they loved to go. She’d make those nights so special for them, with treats and games. I recall her telling me how much she loved them being over. She told me once that they both crawled into bed and snuggled with her, one on each side and how that, for her, was “heaven.” She would do anything for her grandkids. In all cases, she was the primary or only grandma, the one who was closer (physically and emotionally) and participated the most. I bet they’d all say that she more than made up for lacking a partner, so ample was her attention and her care for them. I’ve learned ‘grandparenting’ well from her example, and my children will just have to deal with it. I fully intend to be the exact same way.

Some of my fondest memories of my mom are from the trips we took. As a youth, we didn’t take too many vacations, although I got to do a special one with my mom and dad back to the Northeast and mid-Atlantic when I was sixteen. I was old enough to truly enjoy the time with my parents as an almost-adult and we had so many good discussions. Better yet were the many times my parents and especially my mom came with my family on vacation. When my son was a baby and my daughter was still on the way, we planned a trip to Walt Disney World. My dad wasn’t all that into it, but my mom loved every minute. And she carried my son EVERYWHERE. She knew my wife was already ‘carrying’ a baby, so she took care of my son. I kept offering to take him after we’d walked all day across the massive theme parks, but she would never give him up. To her, carrying a grandchild did not add encumbrance. She joined us many times on so many trips, with and without my dad, when we went down to Paradise Point, our favorite getaway in San Diego. She was always there to spend time with her grandkids, to let my wife and me have some quiet time together, and to be part of our joy. I’m also so grateful that we got to take her and my dad on their final big trip, a return to Hawaii and the islands we visited as a family when I was just eight years old. We stayed close to where we had before on Kawaii and revisited many of the locations, now with my wife and children in tow. As always, my mom was the MVP, helping wrangle the kids, watching them so Christina and I could get a break, and making any and every sacrifice to ensure others had the best time (those famous food-swaps, or indulging the kids with souvenirs and treats) and just being a listener at any moment, and a companion to share in the wonder and the joy. My kids’ grandma could out-grandma just about any other grandma, I can tell you.

In Kauai, with my children.

Many say you look to your parents for the qualities you seek in a spouse. I was quite conscious of that when I asked my wife Christina to marry me. She has my mother’s care, compassion, and generosity. My mother knew this from the beginning and embraced my wonderful wife immediately, treating her as just another one of her children, similarly loved and defended. I can recall complaining to my mom about marital challenges at times. She’d listen but didn’t ‘take my side’ because she wouldn’t speak ill of her daughter-in-law. She was just another one of her children and I love my mom all the more for that. We lost my mother-in-law twenty-one years ago, and my wife has spoken of how my mother did what she could to fill that gap. She took so much care of our kids and helped us so much. My parents moved close to us when our kids were born so they could be those grandparents that are always around. And it’s no surprise that my wife took amazing care of my mom, too, also out of pure love.

My dad’s stroke some fifteen years ago changed all of our lives, but hers the most next only to him. The lifelong caregiver had to go into overdrive and she was more than equal to the task. She spent over a decade caring for him night and day, making adjustments, doing everything she needed to do to care for her precious husband. Her strength through this was amazing, even as she faced these struggles without my father’s endless optimism. It was tough, but she took such good care of him as they grew older and needed more care, moving from their townhome to a mobile home and eventually to my home (with my dad across the street in a board-and-care facility).

After my father passed away in early 2018, my mother was never the same. While she’d been touched with dementia in the year leading up to his death, the illness grew – often in aggressive spurts. She moved from our home to assisted living and then memory care. Although she had bouts of anxiety and difficulty at times, she remained thrilled to see me when I would visit her each week. We’d go out for breakfast even though she’d have already eaten. She’d delight in a second breakfast with me (I’ll refrain from the hobbit joke based on her size – oops!) and ask about the kids. Sometimes, she’d need to repeat that question rather a lot because her memory was fading, but that was always top of mind. Yes, there were anti-Trump diatribes (of course she hated him, he’s everything she despised), but mostly it was her seizing on and enjoying the details of how my children and my niece and nephew were carrying on. Each small detail was greeted with pure joy; her ambrosia was knowing the family was thriving. I really believe that the isolation from all of us had an impact on her. Yet, she’d have had it no other way. She’s want people to be safe and to be practicing physical distancing, even as it kept her from hugging her children and grandchildren for a couple of months. I cherish that last visit Alaric and I made just before the lockdown. Even as she wasn’t expressive in words, she closed her eyes with joy as she hugged her grandson and then me, knowing she had done well by the world and by her much-loved family.

Wedding Picture

As I kissed her head a final time, I was taken by how much she still looked like my mom despite the tubes, the state of her health, and the wear of decades. Throughout my life, she never looked different; she remained her same beautiful self from when I was young – perhaps even, back to the image of her wedding picture a decade before I was born – that shining princess smiling as if she knew, already and for sure, how much happiness she’d experience and create in her life. It wasn’t the hair dye. I looked at her that final time as I always did, with the love she showed me how to experience – the power to soften wrinkles, cloud patches of gray, and obfuscate whatever else had changed. I still saw my mom full of a desire for her family to be healthy, happy, and safe. Before I sat vigil next to her in the final minutes, my sister whispered to her that she didn’t have to take care of us any longer – we were ready to care for one another. I also said what I could to comfort her; I told her that all was well, that her family loved her and that it was time to be at peace. The words strung together and ended up in a kind of chant to ensure that her last thoughts would be free of the worry we both would tend to feel. I hope she trusted me about it. I believe she did.

Our last picture together, March 2020

Since my father passed away in early 2018, I feel his presence in my daily decision to greet the world with optimism. My mom is now by his side, reminding me to love before I judge and to work at converting the sense of suspicion we shared into a careful wisdom. That’s how I believe it will play out, although it’s still quite fresh in my head and my heart. Right now, it feels like her telling me to simply add love in heaping spoonfuls to every recipe for living life. It worked for her and I can hear her calming, sweet voice telling me that it should work for me as well.

For those who would like to donate in her memory, we have a funding page for the American Heart Association: https://bit.ly/lydiamemorial. Thank you for reading about our mom.